If you like your wildlife more on the wild side, you won’t be disappointed when you drive Custer State Park’s 18-mile Wildlife Loop Road. The two-lane paved road in the southern portion of the park traverses open prairie grasslands and over and around pretty rolling hills dotted with colorful wildflowers. Deer, elk, and antelope roam freely, as do enormous buffalo. Also watch for coyotes, mountain lions, many species of birds, and a colony of cute prairie dogs you can watch right from the road.
Each spring, the Wildlife Loop Road turns into a nursery for adorable buffalo calves! Sticking close to their mothers’ hefty sides, the little ones are fiercely protected, so use your telephoto lens and don’t get too close—although they’re so cute it’s tempting! The herds often graze near the roadsides and without warning will walk in front of vehicles, so use caution. Buffalo, or bison, look slow and plodding, but they can outrun a horse, are unpredictable, and should never be approached.
To fully experience just how fast and furiously bison can run, don’t miss the Buffalo Roundup that’s held toward the end of September each year. To control the size of the park’s bison population, yippee-kay-yeahing cowboys and cowgirls herd over 1,500 huge beasts into a system of corrals along the Wildlife Loop Road. It’s not only a sight to see, but with thousands of thundering hooves pounding the earth, you’ll feel it too! Once corralled, the animals are sorted and the new calves are branded and vaccinated. Most bison are released back into the park, but others remain in the corrals until the November buffalo auction. Revenue received from this auction goes toward the park’s annual operating budget.
In conjunction with the Roundup, Custer State Park hosts an Annual Buffalo Roundup Arts Festival, too. For three full days in September, visitors are treated to continuous Western and Native American dancing and singing, and you can admire and purchase artwork made by South Dakota’s finest artists and craftsmen. Mounted shooting demonstrations, a chili cook-off, and other special activities make this event a South Dakota tradition.
The Peter Norbect Visitor Center is a must-see while in Custer State Park, and is covered in part 3, along with campgrounds and lodges. Please check back!Research Campgrounds, Plan RV Safe Routes & Turn your phone into an RV GPS.
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In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com